The Drug-filled Pen is Mightier than the Sword


The Faculty (Robert Rodriguez, 1998) is often spoken of as a product of other movies before it.  The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) are two examples of movies that have been used by fans and critics to describe The Faculty‘s alien abduction plot (and are actually remakes of previous films).  On the movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes,  The Faculty holds a “rotten” score of 54/100 with the critic consensus “Rip-off of other sci-fi thrillers.”  It seems impossible to describe this movie as a unique work that exists on its own merits.   

The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985) meets Body Snatchers (Jack Finney, 1954) 

This plethora of comparisons is no mistake.  The Faculty invites its audience to draw from other movies, including both films listed above, to understand its role of both subverting and conforming to genre expectations.  In the episode “The Simpsons Already Did It,” from Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s adult cartoon South Park (2006-), the character Butters struggles to find an original way to menace the people of his town (he’s a fourth grader playing pretend).  Unfortunately Butters finds that, no matter how hard he tries, every plan that he can think of has already been done in an episode of the Simpsons (Matt Groening, 1989-).  Reusing narratives is inescapable.  Just as Stan tells Butters that the plot used in a particular Simpson‘s episode came from an episode of The Twilight Zone (Rod screen-shot-2012-10-12-at-9-45-13-amSerling, 1959-1964), Stokely informs Casey that the novel The Body Snatchers (Jack Finney, 1954) is a “blatant rip-off” of The Puppet Masters (Robert Heinlein, 1951) in a scene from The Faculty (it is also quite interesting that Stokely refers to the book by its movie adaptation title “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).

The Faculty explicitly invites the viewer to think of other media through spoken references, and indirectly through it’s film-making (one sequence is a clear call-back to the “blood-test” in John Carpenter’s The Thing.  It should not be dismissed as a mere “rip-off” other films, and a derivative film that offers nothing new.  The Faculty works to both conform to and subvert audience’s expectations of horror and teen movie “genres,” to show the importance of the adolescent individual overcoming the “adult world” of dystopian conformity, and establish its own role as a unique film that attempts to contribute to the line of similar films and media on which it builds.   

The Plot

The Faculty shows the journey of its six high-school protagonists to uncover the mystery behind the recent and strange behavior of their faculty.  The characters discover that an alien parasite is infecting the faculty and students of Harrington High.  By using the drying properties of a drug referred to as “scat,” packaged in ballpoint pins, the students are able to defeat the alien threat (hurray for drugs) and save their school and town.  Along the way, each character has an arc that displays the film’s knowledge of genre types.  For example, the “cheerleader” ends up with “nerd,” and the “jock” ends up with the “goth.”

The Paper

Topic 1: the “adult world” 

The Faculty aligns the alien antagonist of the film closely with the adults, who are also shown to be the cause of a greater system of adolescent exploitation and harm.

  • The movie opens up by showing the importance of high-school football for the town, which is presented as detrimental to academia. The film constantly critiques the “football town” system that essentially exploits adolescent characters for the benefit of adults.
  • Adults are the first to become infected by the alien parasite and are the only people who are killed in the  film.
  • Although the queen alien takes the form of an adolescent, she is not from the town and is an “outsider” and thus not linked to the adolescent world of the film.
  • Adults who are not infected are shown to be completely unhelpful, unsympathetic, and detrimental to the lives of the adolescent characters.
  •   The character who becomes the “hero” of the movie is the “nerd.”  The last character to be attacked by the aliens (it is unclear if he is infected, he is merely shown passed out) is similarly intelligent despite having failed his senior year of high school.
  • His failure might represent the failure of the school’s education system, as he is portrayed as the most knowledgeable character in the film.
  • The adolescent characters that the audience are expected to sympathize least with, are portrayed as being flawed because of adults.  For example, the “cheerleader” is constantly mean to the other characters, but it is later revealed that her mother has a drinking problem and her dad has passed away.
  • The adult figures that are meant to draw the most sympathy from the audience are more closely aligned with the adolescent world.  For example the timid teacher Miss Burke is shown trying to convince Zeke, a drug-dealer, of his academic potential.  Though she is infected by the parasite, she is not killed at the end, and a romance is hinted at between her and Zeke.
  • The film opens up with the song “The Kids aren’t Alright” by the Offspring, a song lamenting the loss of youth.

Topic 2: other films

The Faculty invites the audience to use other media to understand and evaluate its story, championing its self-awareness and solidifying its role as a unique film that attempts to make a new contribution to the genres and media that it uses.

  • Throughout the film there are explicit references to other alien invasion films and books.
  • These media works are also used to show the movie’s self-awareness in terms of plot.  For example, one character asks the science fiction expert what happens next in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (likely referring to the 1954 novel), in the spirit of Spaceballs‘ (Mel Brooks, 1987) scene where one character watches the “movie” Spaceballs to see what will happen next.
  • In explicitly referencing other films, the movie also makes it a point to show that these films are themselves “rip-offs” of other media works, thus defending its alien invasion subject matter.
  • A character in the movie poses the theory that each of these alien stories reflects a greater truth: that these narratives are all the result of media-makers trying to warn others of the truth of their real-life alien encounters.
  • In doing this, the film justifies its existence and unique narrative contribution
  • Sequences and scenes in the movie are clearly reminiscent of those in other alien films such as the “blood test” in John Carpenter’s The Thing, and are used purposefully.  For example, in this case the “blood test” is used in The Faculty to both highlight a similar anxious distrust between characters, and further the plot.
  • The film displays other instances of self-awareness, such as the Delilah’s response to Casey when he asks why it is that she is picking on him  ” nothing, it’s just your fate, you’re that geeky Steven King kid, there’s one of you in every school.”
  • Dialogue like this also blurs the line between reality and fiction, and plays with media conventions, which are part of the film’s unique contribution.

Topic 3: character arcs

The journey and eventual outcome of each of the film’s protagonists and important characters, shows the film’s ability to use and subvert type and genre conventions.

  • The film’s six protagonist can easily be identified by character types (e.g., the “cheerleader,” the “nerd,” the “jock,” etc.).
  • Di spite this, the characters display qualities that directly break from these conventions, such as the “jock’s” disillusionment with football and resentment for being given A’s simply because of his status as quarterback.
  • There is constant mingling between these character types, and every relationship and romance occurs between “opposite” characters, such as the “jock” and the “goth,” and the “nerd” and the “cheerleader.”
  • At the end of the film, each character ends up in a position that breaks from convention.  The drug dealer Zeke, becomes a football player, and the former jock Stan ends up dating the goth Stokely.
  • Though the film subverts character types, it relies on their existence to do so.  For example, the revelation that the “goth” is not actually a lesbian, and actually has a crush on the “jock,” has a shock value because of the character’s stereotypical appearance.
  • The film also reinforces these types to some extent in attempting to subvert them.  For example, when the cheerleader is shown wearing glasses and more formal attire, and ends up dating the “nerd” at the end of the film, we are perhaps expected to believe that she was a “nerd” deep down.
  • Other conventions such as gender roles are also reinforced in this subversion.


The Drugs (and Other Stuff)

I would also like to include the movie’s implicit message about drugs and teens, though this is perhaps outside the scope of this paper.  Other topics I am interested include the latent and manifest meanings of water in the film.  For example, water is explicitly consumed in large qualities by the aliens to stay alive and is thus a recurring image throughout the film (manifest film content), but may have deeper symbolic meanings like representing the female body.  Building off of this idea, I could draw on the film’s portrayal of the “queen” alien who takes the form of a young, blonde woman who appears naked when her true form is discovered.  Other symbols, including the phallic drug-filled pen, might also be used to understand the movie’s portrayal of gender roles.

Perhaps this would result in a different paper.  So for now I am focused on the three topics listed above.

As a final note, I have also kept track of some shots and cuts in the film, though I have yet to connect them and other film techniques to my thesis.


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